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“I stood at a crossroads and fate came to meet me.” – Liz Greene

Today marks the twenty-second day that I have been vegan; as of April 1, 2013, I have decided to be meat and dairy free. It began on a whim after a gluttonous binge on Easter following lent (where I had given up my favorite things, including all sweets). I figured I would try to clean out my system and be healthier. To ensure that I was getting the proper vitamins, though, I performed a lot of research online. The findings shocked me. Having been a pescatarian for over 2 years, I was fully aware of the environmental consequences of eating meat. The ethical and health reasons, however, were completely new.

My response: Why haven’t I been eating a vegan diet my entire life? Why have I been unaware of this information for so long? I am disgusted that I spent the first twenty-two years of my life consuming products that I know now to be full of toxins. When I became pescatarian, the concept of eating meat did not bother me. In fact, I would still eat meat once in a while. When I traveled to and lived in Japan for four months, I ate food items with meat that I felt were famous or special to engage better with the culture. I was not going to pass up trying fugu (pufferfish), tonkatsu (pork-bone based) ramen, or sushi from Tokyo. I felt that my diet should not affect my experience with the Japanese culture; I had wanted to go to Japan since before I can remember, so you bet I was going to experience everything. By contrast, when I simply think about consuming milk now, I am disgusted. By no surprise, I have yet to travel internationally in my twenty-two vegan days, but unlike my previous beliefs, I do not think that maintaining a vegan diet limits one’s cultural experience in any way.

Native Foods Cafe in Wicker Park is a block from my apartment and has quickly become my favorite restaurant as it makes some of the most delicious, healthy (and surprisingly all-vegan) food that I have tasted in a long while. Last Saturday, I went to a cooking demo and specifically brought my concerns to the chef following the demonstration. From her recent travels to Mexico, she was able to work with the chefs there to create unique, personal dishes while still maintaining Mexican flavors. As I love traveling, this has been a big thought in the back of my mind. What would I do in that scenario? With a fresh set of beliefs, now aware of the repercussions for eating meat, I would be a true fool to put another animal product in my mouth. Becoming a vegan doesn’t mean that I and other vegans are limiting ourselves. We still eat delicious food and eat exactly what we want. The only difference between vegans and non-vegans is that our food choices are a lot healthier for our bodies, less harmful to the environmental, and friendlier to all the livestock in the world (in addition to the countless other reasons…). Do I look like I am limiting myself from experiencing the culture?

Itsukushima Shrine: Shinto Shrine and UNESCO World Heritage Site near Hiroshima, Japan.

Itsukushima Shrine: Shinto Shrine and UNESCO World Heritage Site near Hiroshima, Japan.

Koh Phi Phi Islands: Relaxing during high tide on an island near Phuket, Thailand.

Koh Phi Phi Islands: Relaxing during high tide on an island near Phuket, Thailand.

Getting up-close and personal in Taipei, Taiwan

Getting up-close and personal in Taipei, Taiwan

Climbing Mount Fuji

Climbing Mount Fuji

Walking along the Great Wall of China

Walking along the Great Wall of China

Although I was still eating the rotting flesh of pigs, chickens, and cows, drinking growth hormone milk, and chowing down on some nice chicken periods in the time frame that those photos were taken, when I look back, truly how affected would my experiences have been with a vegan diet? Veganism has opened my eyes to so many foods that I never knew could taste so good (and be so good for you!).

The fact that the big industries of the world are concealing data from people is absurd. I was a kid who believed the milk mustache campaign. When I finished a glass of milk, I excitedly showed my grandpa. The problem is that we are unaware of the truth. But the reality of the food industry should not be hidden like the Galleons at Gringott’s bank (Harry Potter reference for all you Muggles). It is difficult to change something that is so culturally deep in our veins; that fact is undeniable. One of the easier ways to realize the absurdities of our food culture is evidenced by pets. Would most Americans eat a dog? A cat? Absolutely not. Yet, this may be normal in other countries. We thrive on beef, yet certain religious say cows are sacred. Why aren’t all animals sacred? Why is one animal too cute to eat, but a pig, who is more intelligent than a 3 year old child, is tomorrow’s greasy breakfast? Just because it is legal, approved by the FDA, and done by everyone, does not mean it is right. Americans used to think slavery and tobacco were okay…

Veganism isn’t a diet; it’s a lifestyle.  April 1st was tough; I admit it. But all it took was a brand new outlook in order to have the healthiest feeling twenty one days of my life. Right now, I do not think I could ever go back. I can only hope you make the change too. 🙂